Monday, May 16, 2011

Satan's Sadists

Satan's Sadists
D: Al Adamson

Claim to fame: That really violent one with Russ Tamblyn

Sicko biker gang heads into the desert, chasing two witnesses to their rapes and murders

A bike gang out riding happens upon a couple fooling around in the woods. They rough up the guy, and pull a train on his girl. Gang mama Gina (Regina Carrol, looking like a trashier version of Sinatra in "Wild Angels") tells her to just relax and enjoy it, which she seems to quickly do. When the gang's through with them, their bodies are put in their car, which is then rolled off a cliff. And this is before the cool opening credits, which are of course accompanied by "Satan," far and away the best theme song from any biker movie.
Cuts show three parties headed toward their destiny at a remote cafe. Besides the Sadists are a vacationing cop and his wife, who pick up Johnny (Gary Kent), a young vet hitchhiking, and college student Tracy (Jackie Taylor), who works there.
The Sadists arrive after the others, and begin acting all wild-bikery --except for leader Anchor (Tamblyn), who has the cool detatched thing going on. Eventually things get out of hand--the cop (Scott Brady) has his gun taken and Johnny is knocked out. While Tracy is forced to clean up a wounded biker, the cafe owner and the cop and his wife are herded outside to an auto graveyard (nice shots). The cop's wife is "brutally" raped (not very convincing) by Anchor, who then gives a self-righteous speech and shoots all three of them dead.
Meanwhile, Johnny comes to and busts out Tracy, and the two flee in her dune buggy with the bikers behind. They break down and have to head into the desert on foot. Fortunately for them, the bikes can't handle the terrain and they'll have to hoof it as well. Only Anchor, Firewater (John Cardos), Acid (Greydon Clark), and Gina remain. And off we go from there.

This is probably the best known movie by Adamson, and one of the most notorious biker flicks overall. For an Al Adamson movie, it's extremely simple and coherent. And like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," for instance, it's not as violent as its reputation, but still manages to live up to the hype.
While it's really not all that violent, especially by current standards, it's the tone that sets it apart. It ranges from a detatched, "Oh, is this really shocking to you?" to a sort of campy glee. Nothing is ever cut for shocks, but to come across as just another moment in the lives of the Satan's Sadists. Though Anchor eventually takes things too far for much of the gang, it takes a lot to get to that point.
Adamson also mines the psychotic bikers as militant wing of the counterculture vein, portarying them as a violent reaction to the Establishment's treatment of the hippies like the Klan emerging from the Reconstruction.
For a film with such a tiny budget it looks pretty damn good. There's very little obvious padding, and except for some awful in-out-in-out zooms during a party, the gimmicks are kept to a minimum. The only thing that really comes off looking cheap are the club's colors. The soundtrack is great, featuring three versions of "Satan."
Adamson also did, for the most part, an excellent job casting it. Tamblyn, of course, was an exploitation film vet for a decade before this, and is perfect here as Anchor--a coldly aloof complete bastard, a hepcatish older than the rest of the gang. Though only John Cardos as the tough but more tempered than Anchor Firewater and Greydon Clark as the drug casualty Acid are major characters, just about every other character --biker and non-- is played by someone who had and/or would do this again. This is almost a who's who of cycle movie character actors.
A notable exception is Jackie Taylor, who is jaw-droppingly bad. Had I researched this, I would probably find a connection between Taylor (aka Jacqueline Cole) and someone who fronted money for this film. While scrambling up a mesa with psychotic bikers in persuit, she asks Johnny if he thinks they'll make it. She asks as though little more than mildly curious; the way she delivers it the line might as well be "Do you think it'll rain?" or "Does my hair look ok?". Her acting is bad enough to be distracting.
For any other complaints, I really have to pick at it... One of the college girls, complaining about her boyfriend's busy hands, says, "I keep telling him its geology, not biology"; it's a line a few years behind --"gynecology" would have been funnier, and trust me, certainly not "too much" in this film... I'm sure Tamblyn looked very cool in that hat in '68, but I first saw it 20 years later so he always just reminded me of Chuck Barris... And it's not the film's fault, but I've never seen a particularly good print of this.
This is one you just keep coming back to. Anyone who says they don't like this does not like biker movies, because tasteless trash like this is what it's all about. As important to my impressions of 1969 as Altamont, the "Manson murders," the Doors Miami concert, and the first Stooges album.
An absolute must see. Over and over. A perfect 5 outta 5.

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